Massachusetts Teachers’ Union Rejects Remote Teaching Guidance as Unsafe

August 24, 2020 Updated: August 24, 2020

The largest teachers’ union in Massachusetts has rejected state guidance calling for teachers to deliver lessons remotely from inside their empty classrooms instead of from their homes, citing safety concerns.

In an Aug. 21 memo (pdf) to school administrators, state education officials recommended teachers working in public school districts that offer a remote learning option in the fall to work from their classrooms or learning spaces each day. Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said seeing a classroom environment on-screen will help develop and maintain a level of familiarity for students, which makes it easier when they eventually switch back to in-person instruction.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), which represents some 110,000 public school and university educators across the commonwealth, criticized the memo and said teachers aren’t going to “return to school buildings before it is safe to do so.”

“It is paternalistic and punitive and has no bearing on the quality of education that the real experts—the educators—provide so masterfully,” MTA President Merrie Najimy wrote in an Aug. 22 statement. “This new guidance is clearly designed to force local educators’ unions to agree to in-person learning regardless of the condition of the school buildings in their districts, indoor air quality, testing capabilities or area COVID-19 transmission rates.”

Teachers Protest Against Reopening Schools At Massachusetts State House
A woman in personal protective equipment holds up signs at a standout protest organized by the American Federation of Teachers at the Massachusetts State House in Boston, on Aug. 19, 2020. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

The MTA, alongside other Massachusetts teachers’ unions, rallied outside the State House last week to demand that the school year start remotely, with hope to bring students back to school when certain health and safety issues are addressed.

“Although some educators may prefer to work out of their school buildings and have that right if it is safe, no one teaching remotely should be required to do so from a school building,” Najimy continued. “We are 100 percent behind any of our locals that choose to reject this recommendation.”

Najimy cited Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who has repeatedly urged workers in his state to work from home if they can, in order to reduce the transmission of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. Baker, however, has also been pushing districts to offer either full-time or part-time in-person classes with protective measures such as social distancing, face covering, and hygiene practices.

“Students have been away from their classrooms and their teachers and peers since March,” Baker said last week at a press briefing. “Since then, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about COVID and have put together guidelines to allow for a productive and safe learning environment that adapts to the challenges that come with COVID-19.”

According to Baker, more than 70 percent of the 371 public school districts that had submitted reopening plans as of Aug. 17 opted for a full return of in-person classes or a mix of online and in-person learning. The remaining 30 percent would continue to rely on remote education when school starts next month.